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Innovation is what makes tomorrow's technology available today.
This technology changes the way we do many things in our daily lives, from shopping, conversing with family, or reading a book.
As an ecommerce brand, the COVID-19 pandemic has (and continues to) force brands like yours to become more innovative. And quite often, that innovation is aided by the technology mentioned above.
One element of the ecommerce industry that has experienced insane innovation and growth (thanks to both the pandemic and technology) is omnichannel retailing.
Omnichannel was a bit of a buzzword before the pandemic, with only giant corporations or forward-thinking startups with seemingly endless budgets offering a truly omnichannel experience.
But the truth is that omnichannel has evolved thanks to the pandemic - and it's easier for brands of all shapes and sizes to leverage the benefits.
Before we take a closer look at omnichannel commerce, let's clarify some definitions.
Omnichannel (or omnichannel) is a multiple channel approach to communicating with customers and selling a product or service.
It involves creating a consistent experience for each customer regardless of the channel on which they interact with you or where they are in the sales funnel.
You might hear 'omnichannel' placed before a lot of words like:
These are all areas where the omnichannel approach does work. One can argue that all these areas can work together, too.
While it's increasingly hard to define what omnichannel is, the main takeaway is this:
Consumers can interact with a brand on all channels in which you're present while still being moved down the sales funnel.
Omnichannel brands may show some or all of the following:
- Online and offline touchpoints
- Consisting branding and messaging over the digital and physical realm
- Offering seamless mobile experiences and exclusive discounts for mobile shoppers
- Delivery or pickup options
- Touchpoints push a user toward purchasing on a different channel
This final point is an important one - as it shows that the brand has not only figured out how to sell over multiple channels while pushing the user towards the sale but is embracing it.
Omnichannel e-commerce brand example
Chasin' Unicorns, a US subscription box company, are a fine example of a small omnichannel brand.
View this post on Instagram
Their Instagram channel is used to show followers what's inside their subscription boxes and engage potential new clients.
(Side note, user-generated content plays a huge role here).
From Instagram, customers are encouraged to buy the product from the website. They're also pushed to other channels, like YouTube, to watch unboxing videos and reviews about the products.
While very basic, Chasin' Unicorns doesn't shy away from pushing customers from one channel to another but creates a seamless experience on all channels.
Multichannel and omnichannel differences
Let's explore the finer differences between omnichannel and multichannel commerce.
To do that, let's clearly define single-channel commerce.
Single-channel commerce is selling a product or service in a single channel. That might be eBay or a retail store, or your online store. The point is that whatever you're selling is only available in one single channel.
Multichannel commerce takes that same product and puts it in several channels.
For example, your product is for sale on eBay AND in a retail store AND your online store.
You encourage people who prefer to buy via the channels you're selling on to come and look at what you're selling, and they complete the purchase on the channel in which they first saw your product.
You communicate via social media, advertising, and other traditional digital and offline methods.
The point is that you're available in more channels, increasing your exposure.
Omnichannel commerce sells in multiple channels while giving your potential customer exactly what they want, no matter where they are in the buying phase, what channel they're on or what devices they're using.
It's easy to see how this is a challenge.
78% of retailers said they're not offering a consistent brand experience in every channel that brand is present.
A recent Havard Business Review report says that omnichannel customers spend 10% more online than single-channel customers, and they also spend 4% more on every in-store shopping occasion.
Simply put, the more channels a customer touches your brand, the more they spend.
A similar report on omnichannel marketing by IDC Retail found that omnichannel customers also have a 20% higher lifetime value.
Young shoppers, in particular, have a penchant for being present on many channels but being loyal to buying on just one or two.
BOPIS (Buy online, pickup in-store) is a delivery method that by design is omnichannel, as it merges an online purchase with a physical store.
As of April 2020, BOPIS sales were up over 200% compared to a year before.
Without a doubt, this is thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers suffered due to a severe lack of foot traffic but counteracted this by upselling online customers that came in to pick up their previous orders.
The physical upsell of online customers when they come in-store is a fine example of an omnichannel marketing tactic.
Requirements for a successful omnichannel commerce strategy
Channie Mize, General Manager for Retail at Periscope, says the organisational changes that need to take place include "the removal of organisational siloes, creation of new processes, and then forming teams that work across, rather than within channels."
Personalised shopping experience
The demands of online shoppers will only increase as technology makes it easier for them to compare products, find better prices and be given personalised product recommendations.
And it's this personalised shipping experience that plays a massive role in a successful omnichannel strategy.
This personalised touch can come in the form of a customer service rep answering a complaint on Twitter, following up via email and then giving the unhappy customer a discount code for their next website purchase.
Another example of a personalised shopping experience is retargeting ads on Facebook or Instagram to target someone who saw a product page but didn't convert. It may also be the processing of emailing a past online buyer about discounts on products similar to ones they've purchased in the past.
Segmentation is a must to target the right person with the right personalised message. Segmentation helps you identify groups within your target audience to double down on that personalisation.
Personalisation may be as broad as a user's geographic location and which generation they belong to. Alternatively, it can be something specific like their income, browsing habits or how they interact with your existing digital content.
The point is this: Segmenting customers and speaking to each segment in a particular manner is the foundation of an omnichannel strategy.
Knowing your customer's journey
Customer journeys are never straightforward, and there are countless ways that the journey can look during the awareness, consideration, and purchase phases.
For example, the journey of a user who found your Instagram ad will look entirely different from the journey of a customer who found your product after reading a negative review of a competitor.
Knowing the most common and most profitable journeys is paramount to making an omnichannel experience work for your business.
Another thing to consider is understanding the most significant barriers in these journeys. Removing these barriers in common user journey paths can help bring in more traffic and sales.
ProTip: Your customer journey doesn't end once they've purchased from you - it continues onto your packaging, after-sales service and well beyond.
Consider a clothing line that's based on eco-friendly materials. That brand would want to push the sustainability of its materials on all channels, rather than how 'affordable' it is in one channel, and then its sustainability in other channels.
The basis of an omnichannel campaign, be it retail, marketing or commerce, is consistency.
- Tone of voice
- Value propositions
Consistency is vital, as it shows your customer who has gone from channel to channel that you are indeed the same brand and stand for the same things.
Be careful of simply copying and pasting content from one channel to all others.
The copy on an AI-based chatbot doesn't work in an abandoned cart email. A consistent brand voice is what you're aiming for.
Setting up an omnichannel experience in any way, shape or form isn't an overnight action.
It's a slow process.
There are other potential pitfalls that brand owners should be aware of in making the switch. Here are some of them.
Inventory management strains
Omnichannel retailing aims to put your product in front of more customers and hopefully sell more.
When implemented successfully, the likelihood of inventory management pains only increases. Manually updating stock numbers over marketplaces, retail stores, and your ecommerce store is tedious at best.
While the technology is there to make multichannel and omnichannel selling more accessible, it's also worth being aware that more products out the door means more products having to come in the door.
The capital needed to buy more inventory to sell it again is one hurdle, and many managers solve this by taking advantage of bulk discounts.
This can help improve profit margins and cause physical pains in the form of taking up more warehouse space and locking up more cash on warehouse shelves.
Can be costly
As you just read, there may be some extra capital needed to invest in your business in the form of inventory.
This additional inventory can help you keep up with demand, should your omnichannel retail and SaaS marketing campaign find the success it deserves. Having a workflow in place to manage inventory and ensure products are always in stock is essential here.
In omnichannel e-commerce, marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, Etsy and so on are the go-to solutions.
But they all cost money to sell on there.
These fees come in many different forms:
- Monthly fees
- Listing fees
- Transaction fees
- Sales fees
The struggle with selling on a marketplace is that you're selling your products under the banner of another company and paying for the privilege of doing so.
All these fees add up.
Other expenses come in the form of the software mentioned above to help you sync and manage your inventory over multiple channels.
Add omnichannel customer support software, and it's easy to see how the costs can quickly add up and almost negate any extra sales.
You can negate this initial outlay of costs in several ways.
Start selling and marketing your brand on new channels one-by-one.
In this situation, it's best to perfect the process of selling and communicating on one channel and then move onto another, rather than being present on as many channels as possible but executing your presence poorly.
Technology makes it easier for brands like yours to be genuinely omnichannel.
However, that technology does have a learning curve.
Whether it's a multi-channelled customer service tool or a marketing dashboard that helps you see all metrics in one place, there's an element of learning involved.
This learning process takes time, and this means that you and your team need to learn this software and see how it works for your specific business.
What's more, implementing technology also brings people into the equation.
A small brand with several employees means there needs to be some downtime to implement new technological features. It's a safe bet to assume that these solutions will also require time to implement effectively.
Now that you're aware of the challenges of being an omnichannel brand let's look at the advantages.
More traffic, more sales
By placing your brand and its products in more channels, you garner more impressions, traffic, and ultimately, more sales.
But as we saw earlier, omnichannel customers spend more than single-channel customers.
What's more, the more channels they used to get to that point of sale, the more money they spend in-store.
This may be a case of brand proof or customers trusting your brand more, as it's present on more channels, but the evidence is in the data: more channels means more sales.
More data, trends & insights
With that increase in traffic and sales comes another valuable asset - data.
The more data you have, the better decisions you can make.
These decisions ultimately lead to more profit in the form of lowered customer acquisition costs, less money spent on packaging supplies, better inventory management and better ROI on marketing budgets.
A better experience for your customer
Leaving an Instagram page and going to a website, only to struggle to find the product, and then having to go back to the Instagram page to ask for help, only be told to send them an email - it's jarring, unprofessional, unpleasant and not a great way to build loyalty.
Making the transition from one channel to another gives the customer what they want - consistency.
This consistency minimises the friction to convert and increases the chances of a one-time customer coming back.
Customers who buy from you for a second time are more likely to spend more. What's more, 82% of companies surveyed agree that retention is cheaper than acquisition.
Customer retention is a massive cash cow for brands of all shapes and sizes.
Coupled with concepts like gamification, an omnichannel approach to marketing, sales and customer service can skyrocket retention and loyalty.
A compelling brand story, coupled with consistent messaging everywhere that story is present helps build that loyalty and make your customer feel like they're a part of your brand.
The most successful omnichannel strategy focuses on doing the smallest number of things exceptionally well rather than a large number of things averagely.
In other words, having a seamless experience over three channels is going to be a more considerable asset for you and your business compared to simply being present on a half-dozen channels.
But it's also too important to remember that an omnichannel experience requires smooth behind the scene operations, too.
With more moving parts, more things can potentially go wrong.
But you can minimise the amount of risk by working with tried and tested companies that are familiar with the omnichannel goals you're trying to reach.
And Packhelp is one of those companies familiar with helping brands just like yours grow and scale using various business models.